The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table's Shadow Side
by Marco Fontani Mariagrazia Costa Mary Virginia Orna
Oxford University Press, 2014 (($39.95))

The journey to the periodic table of elements we know today was not smooth. Chemists Fontani, Costa and Orna tell the story of the false starts and stray paths that led to the “discovery” of many elements that turned out not to be. Some, such as “didymium,” were later revealed to be composites of multiple elements; others, such as “brevium,” were isotopes, or variations, on other elements (in this case, protactinium). Many of these efforts, the authors show, were not wasted but rather helped to clarify the true nature of the elements we know now and the chemical laws they obey. “There are many more elemental ‘discoveries’ later shown to be false than there are entries in the present table,” they write. “Some of these were good-faith errors, some were the result of personal wishful thinking, some were the fantasy children of pseudoscientists—and all have their fascinating stories.”